Okay, so it was never my intention during my Lenten Series to do a mini-series, but I am. For the rest of this My First Lent series I’d like to take a closer look at The Stations of the Cross. What are these Stations of the Cross? You may have heard of it as the Way of the Cross or the Via Delarosa. They refer “to a series of religious reflections describing, or artistic representations, often sculptural, depicting Christ carrying the cross to His crucifixion” (wikipedia). There are fourteen stations all together.
The term Stations of the Cross is something that I don’t recall really hearing throughout most of my Baptist/Evangelical upbringing. However, I do remember seeing ornate artwork depicting each Station when wandering the many historic churches of a liturgical tradition (Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran) in Downtown Charleston, especially standing out to me in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, my favorite of Charleston churches from a purely aesthetic viewpoint.
For my non liturgical friends, you’d most be familiar with the Stations of the Cross from the Mel Gibson directed motion picture The Passion of the Christ. The way in which Gibson laid out that particular movie incorporates the various Catholic versions of the fourteen stations.
Finally, before we talk about the first of these stations, there are a couple versions to follow. One is the traditional fourteen, that for the most part were observed for hundreds of years, yet do include a few events not found in the Protestant Bible. Many Protestants, and now Catholics thanks to Pope John Paul II, follow instead a Scriptural Way of the Cross, based solely on the historical, Biblical account. For the remainder of this Lenten series, we’ll be focusing on the fourteen scriptural Stations of the Cross.
And of course, I’m not going to just tell you the Bible story, but I hope to give my own little take on what I take away from that portion of the story of the Passion.
The first Station of the Cross is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Here’s the scripture: Matthew 26:36-41 (NCV) Then Jesus went with his followers to a place called Gethsemane. He said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him, and he began to be very sad and troubled. He said to them, “My heart is full of sorrow, to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me.” After walking a little farther away from them, Jesus fell to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, do not give me this cup of suffering. But do what you want, not what I want.” Then Jesus went back to his followers and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “You men could not stay awake with me for one hour? Stay awake and pray for strength against temptation. The spirit wants to do what is right, but the body is weak.”
The story is familiar. Just as Jesus was beginning to face his biggest trial, he went to pray. He took his best friends for support. Yet, in such a moment of despair, his friends fell asleep.
When I’m going through a rough time, I tell my little circle of friends I need a coffee night. We all gather at Starbucks after the kids are in bed. Some of our biggest struggles are shared at a patio table outside of Starbucks (they close the inside portion of the store way before we usually finish talking). I’d be pretty devastated if I walked away from the table for a minute, and when I returned I found them asleep.
So, here was Jesus – who had just fallen down to the ground in prayer, struggling. Even sweating drops of blood in the account told in Luke. Talk about extreme stress. And when he finished praying, he found his friends fast asleep. I can imagine he was disappointed and hurt. He was feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders and was alone in what he was about to face.
And while I can think of how discouraged Jesus must have felt seeing his friends napping under a tree, I have always found a measure of encouragement in this particular account. Here was Jesus… the Son of God… and he was struggling. So often we hear from teachers and preachers that faith should be firm. There should be no doubt, no uncertainty. I’ve heard people proclaim, with a bit of pride, “My faith has never been shaken.” And for someone like me who has had her fair share of wrestling with faith, with struggling during dark times, I am comforted to know that even Jesus sat there and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, do not give me this cup of suffering.”
See, Jesus showed us in one of his darkest hours that struggling through tough times is a very basic part of our human condition. We see it with so many Biblical heroes – Jacob wrestled with God. Moses asked questions. David’s struggles are chronicled in the Psalms he wrote. Just like those pillars of faith, Jesus had his moment, too. Greg Boyd in his book Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty says about this incident, “Though the sinless Son of God had perfect faith, we find him asking God the Father to alter the plan… even though this plan had been predestined for ages by the Trinity, Jesus desperately asked for an alternative.” Now, of course, you and I both know that there was not an alternative. Jesus knew that too; he knew he had to suffer. And Jesus willingly submitted to God’s will.
The author of Hebrews says in chapter 5:7-9, “While Jesus lived on earth, he prayed to God and asked God for help. He prayed with loud cries and tears to the One who could save him from death, and his prayer was heard because he trusted God. Even though Jesus was the Son of God, he learned obedience by what he suffered. And because his obedience was perfect, he was able to give eternal salvation to all who obey him.”
I find comfort in knowing when I struggle, when I might wrestle with God that struggling isn’t necessarily sinful. Boyd again says about Jesus struggling at this moment, “that perfect faith, which I assume Jesus had, is not a faith that is free of struggles. It’s rather a faith that is willing to honestly struggle.”
The fact that you might struggle is not wrong. It’s whether the struggle keeps you from obeying or not. That was clearly modeled for us by our Savior that night in the Garden of Gethsemane.
To learn more about the Stations of the Cross bring your family and journey to the cross with a 30 minute interactive experience called Embrace the Cross on Good Friday. It is an interactive worship experience. This event is free and open to the public. KIDS ARE WELCOME and there will be activities geared specifically toward them. Sponsored by Ashley Ridge Church and Trinity Church Summerville. Find out more details at this Facebook Event Page.